News feature, November 4, 2007
The USA gets a few new races and several changes to the UCI calendar. Cyclingnews' Mark Zalewski reports on the major changes and the growth in the high level races in America.
Last year at this time it looked like the North American road racing scene was turning a corner - multiple races, both new and existing, were making the jump to UCI status. The result was to be the largest and most highly rated calendar of races on this continent in decades. However, the air was let out of the balloon as race after race (Tour of Utah, Tour of Connecticut, Montreal-Boston) announced postponement or cancelation, largely due to lack of funds. It appeared that American race promoters had bitten off more than they could chew.
For 2008 there are new races popping up on the UCI America Tour calendar, but the growth seems to be a little more realistic. Two new races are on the schedule, as opposed to the proposed six in 2007, one of which has already announced a title sponsor. Additionally, races that were in question seem to have new life - namely the Tour de Georgia and the Tour of Utah.
One of the most exciting new races is the Colorado Stage race, scheduled for mid-August. The race will bring top-level road racing back to the state that is a road cycling paradise and houses the U.S. governing body, but ironically does not have a major UCI event. The three stages over three days will harken back to the top level of racing from twenty-plus years ago, starting with a road race from Brekenridge to Beaver Creek, a circuit race in and around Vail Village and a time trial up the old Coors Classic course heading towards Vail Pass.
John Dakin of the Vail Valley Foundation, organizers of the event, said that the race has been upgraded to a 2.1 status and that this idea has been brewing for many years. "Road cycling has been on the burner for the foundation and Colorado for a while now," he said. "Vail was an annual stop for the Coors Classic, the mountain bike world championships were here and we have always hoped there would be cycling in the future for us. Finally we are able to pull the trigger on it."
While the race does not yet have a title sponsor, something that was a problem for many races last year, the organizers have confidence based upon their many years of promoting world cup ski races and their partnership with Medalist Sports. "We will be working with Medalist Sports and we feel that combined with our organization it will be a strong. We run the world cup ski events every year so we bring sponsorship experience."
Speaking of Medalist Sports, the management company is now connected to four of the highest rated UCI races in North America. The Tour de Georgia released a statement last week announcing changes in the upper management of the race, and to dispel any rumors that the event would not take place next year. This came a few weeks before the scheduled route announcement of the 2008 race. While there are new names at the top of the organization, the ownership and structure of the race will remain unchanged from 2007.
Medalist Sports, which previously owned the race and continues to serve as operations and logistics contractor, told Cyclingnews that the changes reflect the successful organization of the Tour of Missouri last September, which was backed by that state's lieutenant governor. "We have great momentum," said Medalist's Chris Aronhalt. "What a great way to end the seasons in Missouri. Yes [the Tour de Georgia] has had a lot of challenges, but now we have a new champion in Georgia's lieutenant governor [Casey Cagle]."
The biggest change for Tour de Georgia from previous years is the appointment of Elizabeth Dewberry as the executive director. Dewberry previously served on Cagle's campaign, raising funds - which Aronhalt said is taking a huge weight off of Medalist's shoulders in terms of finding sponsorship, something it did up until last year. "The race is owned by GPED. Before they were not in a position to underwrite the event and Medalist took it upon ourselves, with a lot of support from the state, to find the sponsors. Elizabeth Dewberry as the executive director will take that burden off of us."
Aronhalt would not confirm the rumors that AT&T will be back after last year's last minute, toe-dip sponsorship, but he did say that the company was pleasantly surprised with the event, as well as their sponsorship of the Tour of Missouri.
The statement also said the route announcement would be coming in the middle of November, causing some previous host cities to wonder why the race had not yet contacted them. An article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press reporting on the statement said that multiple previous host cities were worried that the race might not be returning to their area - an excellent sign that the race is popular and accepted by the public. Aronhalt said that the route is not yet set in stone, but that a focus for 2008 is bringing it to new parts of the state.
"There are some areas of the state we haven't been before, but we want to leave our options open. We are in the process of confirming priority route options. But we have several cities calling us which is great."
The other new UCI race is the Tour of Pennsylvania, a U25 stage race that already has the clothing company American Eagle Outfitters attached as a title sponsor. The race is organized by the same people that put on the Philadelphia International Classic Triple Crown, and is calling the race the richest espoir race in the world.
The Triple Crown will be exchanging one of its spires in 2008, moving the first race from Lancaster to Allentown.
As previously reported on Cyclingnews, the Tour of Utah will try again this season, though no longer with an attempt at the UCI level. The organisers are hoping instead for a spot on USA Cycling's National Racing Calendar (NRC.) Conversely, the Crystal City Classic is upgrading from NRC to UCI status, and will complement the race promoter's other UCI race, the CSC Classic - both in Arlington, Virginia near the U.S. capital of Washington, D.C.
Races that are on the calendar but have an air of uncertainty include the US Cycling Open. Last year troubles plagued the inaugural race which lost its race director a few weeks before the date, with veteran promoter John Eustice stepping in to pick up the pieces. The race happened despite freak blizzard conditions and was a success. However, money was tight and adjustments to prize payouts were made.
According to Dick Durishin, the head of the promotion company behind the event, the race is happening in 2008. However, there are already some problems. "The event is going to run!" he said. "But USAC said my race is on the fifth, and the UCI calendar says the 13th. This is a problem when I am trying to set-up venues. The date that I got from USAC was the fifth of April and that didn't work for Richmond."
Durishin could not talk long as calls from potential venues were ringing and he was awaiting word back from USA Cycling on the date. But his race seems to thrive under tough conditions. "Last year's race came off unbelievably well," he said. "Despite all of the challenges."
A number of other races are continuing to grow, like the Univest Gran Prix. John Eustice said he was planning on trying to upgrade the event to a 1.1 after this year's success, but decided to keep it a 2.1 in order to keep amateurs included. "I was going to try to make it a 1.1 but they made Tour of Missouri eight days which made it tough for the pro teams. And I just frankly like having the amateurs in the field. With a race like Missouri looming for the pros they just sat up this year."
As in the past two years, the racing begins early with the Tour of California in early February. Though not upgraded to a ProTour event like the Tour Down Under, the event could possibly reap the benefits of it, as teams might make their travel plans back to Europe through California.